Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now a few months ago the internet indie horror series â€œMarble Hornetsâ€ finished its five year tale. I highly recommend you go watch it before reading this blog, since I’m going to spoil some of the good bits about it. Even Roger Ebert said it was fantastic, so let that sink in. But why is it scary? Well buckle in, because this is probably going to be a long one.
Before we start, we need to examine the background of where Marble Hornets came from. Once upon a time the website Something Awful was hosting a ‘Let’s Create Paranormal Images’ thread and someone submitted this:
Seems pretty normal, right? Nothing too spooky. Now look at the left hand side of the picture, just under the trees. See it? That, ladies and gentlemen, is Slender Man. A strange, unknown being that doesn’t seem good, bad, or anything. All we get from the picture is this caption:
“One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze, taken one week earlier. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as ‘The Slender Man‘. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence.”
It is a creature that has no real defined existence beyond just seemingly being connected to the disappearance of children. He is a product of the internet culture, a bogeyman that lurks in the darkness. Like the monster under the bed or the creatures waiting for you in the woods. It’s quite a clever monster that is being created by the people writing it. It’s a monster for the internet’s folklore. And this is where Marble Hornets comes in, perhaps the defining factor in making Slender Man the monster that it is. They’ve probably helped define the mythos the most, being the most popular version of the story. So what do we learn about Slender Man in this series.
Well for one, he’s called The Operator. For two, his presence can be detected by the audio and visuals of a camera starting to get distorted. For three, he seems to be connected to the main characters. And finally, he tends to appear in the background when you least expect him… And that’s it. That’s everything we learn about this version of the Slender Man throughout the entire 87 video run. So how can we know so little about something and yet find it so scary?
Well the first secret is how cleverly Marble Hornets trains you, the viewer. In fact, when you watch the early stuff, it almost goes against the rules it’s been setting up. But the rules are thus: The louder the audio distortion gets, the closer the Operator is. For the audience, that’s the only clue they have that things are about to get scary. You can feel the tension building up higher and higher as the audio distorts even more. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when. You’re on the edge of your seat, waiting for the moment when it jumps out and scares you. But of course once you know the pattern it’s no longer scary, right? At the very least you’re preparing for it as the audio distortion gets worse and worse? You know it’s coming?
Keep that in mind as you watch this video:
Now for those too scared to watch, our protagonist is crawling about in a tunnel. Scary enough to begin with, but since we know that the Operator can’t fit into here, we’re safe from that to begin with. Besides, if he did appear, we’d get advance warning with the static sound, right?
Yeah, no. By the time the static start and you realise what’s about to happen, it’s too late. The monster is suddenly there, in a place where it should be logically impossible for it to be. It’s there and it’s attacking the protagonist and, by extension, the viewer. It’s a fantastic jump scare, and that’s what makes Marble Hornets works so well. The Operator appears as three types of scares:
The first is the slow build-up over time. You know the monster is coming, but you can’t do anything to stop it. You just sit there, getting more and more wound up that it’s going to come and get you and you can’t do anything to stop it.
The second is the jump scare variety. Suddenly the monster appears out of nowhere and shocks you. But those two are bad, but not the worst.
No the worst is when the audio distorts, the camera goes fuzzy… and nothing happens. The monster never appears, nothing bad happens. You get wound up expecting something to happen, and yet nothing does. It’s horribly tense and really works well. You expect the worse and nothing bad happens.
â€¦ In brilliant contrast to those standard, run of the mill episodes at the beginning of the series. There’s never any real distortion, nothing really happens, it’s just the characters doing what they normally do. I mean take this video, where the character just walks around his house at night:
Pretty standard, right? Hell it’s something you would do at night yourself. I bet you didn’t even notice that the Operator was standing there the entire time, did you. And this is where it gets really scary, since you’re not anticipating it. It turns out the horror has been there the entire time, hidden in plain sight. It’s bloody terrifying when you realised you’ve overlooked something. But that’s not the scariest ‘entry’, oh no. No there’s two that stand out as being the scariest things I have ever seen in my life.
Answer this simple question: When you’re asleep, how do you know there’s not someone else in the room watching over you? And do you turn on a camera to film yourself sleeping, or would you rather stay ignorant of what is happening to you? Because this right here is the true horror of Marble Hornets: The paranoia. You become incredibly paranoid that perhaps these events are happening to you. How do you know that there isn’t a monster sneaking into your room at nights, watching you as you sleep… In fact how do you know that there isn’t a monster sitting behind you right now? As you read these words and focus on this screen it’s getting ready to attack you, to kill you in a bloody manner. Or perhaps that closed door next to you. How do you know that something isn’t ready out there to harm you right now? How do you know that it isn’t standing there, waiting? You can’t, can you. At some level you know that the probability that something is out there ready to hurt you is small, but possible. Alfred Hitchcock once said that there’s nothing scarier on screen than a closed door, since anything could be behind it. Just like anything could be behind yours right now, waiting for you to go to bed so it can get you. You can’t stay awake forever, can you?
So there you have it. A look at Marble Hornets, one of the greatest horror properties ever made. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.